June 11, 2023

Sports media must do better in championing female athletes—really

Sports media must do better in championing female athletes—really
Art by One Sports

March is over. That also means the yearly celebration of Women’s Month is also done, including for us in the sports media. The familiar hashtags, the pink-themed posters, and the female-empowering lyrics used as catchy captions, all of them will be placed back in a box until next March. Thank you, next.

Did we really celebrate Women’s Month? Or did we just jump on the annual bandwagon? Or worse, just to comply with some marketing requirement? Did we really uplift female athletes, most especially Filipinas, this month? Or at least tried?

These are tough questions that we in the sports media should be really asking ourselves. Women’s Month and International Women’s Day for that matter are more than trendy hashtags, colorful art, and positive messaging.

There’s a certain level of indictment that could be deservedly hurled against the sports media that not much is being done to forward the causes of female athletes, or even give them enough credit and put them in the spotlight. Some outlets have definitely written great stories and produced laudable videos, but sadly, they are few and far between.

But is it also a case of women being underrepresented in the sports media, resulting in the lack of proper female perspectives? While there are no readily available data, for sure, the male-to-female ratio of sports journalists in the Philippines is far from equal.

Highlighting female athletes, especially when convenient, might be misconstrued by some as virtue signaling or a form of “wokeness,” which are both reductive and quite frankly, insulting. But it’s also hard to blame them for thinking so, because, really, after a few posts commemorating Women’s Month, there’s not much follow-through. It feels like we’re doing the bare minimum.

While stories and videos championing female athletes are always welcome, we can always do better. Instead of asking typical questions that prompt cookie-cutter answers, maybe we should be asking more about the tough realities of being a female athlete. What does it really entail to be one? Maybe we should be asking them about being a mother. About putting their career on hold because of pregnancy. About the difficulty of getting back into shape after giving birth. About the need to rest when they’re on their period. About less-than-ideal uniforms. About society-induced insecurities. About misogyny. About getting lewd comments on social media. About being catcalled in game venues. About body-shaming. About gender bias. About being chastised for being "too aggressive." About women hating on fellow women. About their rights. About their aspirations. About their advocacies.

They may be taboo topics—as ridiculous as that sounds in 2023—but perhaps that’s exactly what we need: To start discussing them.

After all, they’re women first and athletes second. It’s safe to assume that they have more to say about being a woman than being a winner or a loser of a match, which in the grand scheme of the cosmos, would look inconsequential in the face of persisting challenges female athletes face.

But to be perfectly clear, that doesn't mean we should look past their athletic accomplishments or their kinetic talents in elevating their femininity. Especially in the Philippines, where female athletes are still unfortunately trivialized. It's about finding the right balance between their significance on and off the playing field.

There is a buffet of female athletes who are well-spoken and can serve a banquet of inspiration. It would feel like an injustice if we just name a few of them. So, at the risk of sounding naive, preachy, and overly self-righteous, let’s put it this way: No female athlete is a non-story. There’s always a tale to tell. We just have to pay more attention.

In recent years, it is Filipina athletes who have been putting the Philippines on the map: Hidilyn Diaz, Yuka Saso, Nesthy Petecio, Margie Didal, Alex Eala, the women’s national football team, etc. There's also a laundry list of others who have been making great strides in international competitions. So why aren't we giving them more recognition? Women's Month or not.

A male athlete's feat would, for the most part, be instant news. No questions asked. But when a female athlete does something, the instant reaction tends to be apprehension. Is it big enough? Is she popular? Will the story sell? While they're valid questions, there's a simmering tone of double-standard. 

The sports media's crime is that it can still be insular, patriarchal, and monocultural. While a more progressive view toward female athletes has developed in recent years—most notably advocating for gender equality—conscious admiration is still not yet genuinely felt. It's a shared responsibility of the sports media to bring female athletes to national consciousness. 

Female athletes deserve more attention. We in the sports media should amplify that more. Really.